Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong. The unique and engaging balance of gameplay and storytelling are a huge draw to people. TV shows, movies, and books are having a hard time keeping up with that enticing combo. People get top-notch, unforgettable stories with a bonus of hands-on interaction. It’s no wonder players spend hours in these virtual worlds. Instead of watching these stories play out, they take an active role in their outcomes. This often leaves a lasting impression on the player. Below are five boundary-pushing games that give players an unforgettable emotional experience.
Red Dead Redemption
John Marston is an outlaw looking for peace in his life. He wants to holster the revolvers and settle down with his wife and son for good. His chance at a quiet life comes when he’s tasked with tracking down his former gang members and bringing them to justice. Doing so will earn him a pardon for his previous crimes. In Red Dead Redemption, players form a tight bond with John as they sink in a ton of hours on this quest for redemption. Except, things take a heartbreaking turn when the lawmen who hired John for the job betray him and gun him down.
John’s unjust murder had players out for revenge, and surprisingly, the game delivered by allowing us to take control of John’s son, Jack, to exact vengeance. This character switch also provides us with a different perspective on the story and the events that have happened up until this point. The redemption journey bonded players with John, but its tragic end — which birthed a vengeance-filled beginning — is what will bond them with Jack.
The Last of Us
In The Last of Us, Joel must transport young girl Ellie to a quarantine zone because her immunity to a deadly infection may lead to a cure. This plot doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to zombie apocalypse stories. However, the story stands out from the crowd by focusing on the relationship between Joel and Ellie. The bond between the two grows just like any other relationship between a child and a parent-like figure throughout the game. Joel shows Ellie how to survive in this brutal world, teaching her skills like fighting, scavenging, and swimming.
They go from being strangers to friends, and then finally family, and all those stages feel earned. Over time, they even begin to feel like real people. This connection makes the situations these two find themselves in hard-hitting. We take pride in Ellie learning to swim, and we’re terrified when an injured Joel leaves Ellie to survive on her own. But it’s the simple moments, like when Ellie and Joel pet some giraffes, that really tug at the heartstrings and make you appreciate the small things.
In BioShock Infinite, Booker DeWitt must rescue Elizabeth from the clutches of her captor, the tyrannical Comstock. Players learn Comstock imprisoned the mysterious Elizabeth to take advantage of her powers — which allow her to open portals to other times and dimensions. This series of events set the stage for a big twist at the end of the game that completely changes the story as a whole. It turns out your mission to help Elizabeth is more personal than it seems.
Elizabeth explains that Booker Dewitt and Comstock are the same person. They come from different timelines that crossed over because of Elizabeth’s powers. To make things worse, Booker learns that Elizabeth is his forgotten daughter, Anna. Booker sold Anna to an associate of Comstock to clear a debt, not knowing Comstock’s true identity. This shocking revelation changes everything you know about Booker. You come to care about Elizabeth so much during the game that it’s a hard blow realizing you’re the villain of her story. It’s hard to forget a game that pulls the rug out from under players by having them be both the hero and villain of the story.
Have you ever talked to someone? Like, really talked to them about anything and everything? Telling that person things you have never told anyone before? In Firewatch, the game builds itself around these kinds of conversations had between fire lookouts Henry and Delilah. The relatable conversations these two have are so emotional because they are realistic.
Depending on the player’s dialogue choices for Henry, his relationship with Delilah changes. For example, when Henry eavesdrops on one of Delilah’s conversations and then asks her about it, she gets upset and stops talking to Henry. If players don’t ask her about this, their conversations continue as usual. Choices like this show how one path leads to a stronger friendship with Delilah, while other decisions can cause it to deteriorate. You don’t always need flashy graphics and gameplay to deliver a memorable experience. Sometimes all you need is two people talking.
God of War (2018)
Dropping Kratos into the world of Norse mythology with a son to raise was a risky move for God of War. How can you take everyone’s beloved angry Greek god, stick him in Midgard with a son, and it still call it God of War? Despite concerns about the changes, they actually paid off by giving players a more grown-up and mature version of Kratos. The god’s anger led him to make many mistakes in the past. Now, he works to control his rage while passing on his godly knowledge and skills to his son, Atreus.
In the previous games, Kratos had no problem tearing apart any god or man that stood in his way; he was brutal. God of War chooses not to ignore these past actions. Instead, the game uses them to shape Kratos and his relationship with Atreus. All the classic God of War elements are in this game, but with a relatable story that packs a solid emotional punch. Kratos tries to better himself and struggles to raise his child. It’s a common experience many people have dealt with in one way or another. By the time the credits roll, Kratos proves that anyone — no matter their past — can change.